The men of the Māori Battalion, pictured here on the Westmoreland, were welcomed home with much fanfare in 1919.

Māori soldiers returning home after service in the First World War faced a battle for equality at home — as Monty Soutar explains in this edited extract from his new book Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E! Māori in the First World War.


Many Māori soldiers had developed drinking habits in wet canteens and through camp rituals. Back in New Zealand, legislators had been trying to curb Māori access to alcohol for half a century. To this end, North Island Māori were prohibited from purchasing takeaway liquor, with heavy penalties for lawbreakers.

In 1917, for example, a Māori male was apprehended in Tauranga with two bottles concealed in an overcoat that he had tried to hand to two young Māori women. He was fined £25 12s. Unable to pay, he was gaoled for three months. The maximum penalty for this offence was £50.

The law did not apply to South Island Māori, who had the same rights as Pākehā. These and other restrictions were in theory not intended to limit Māori citizenship, but to safeguard, widen and enrich it — and protect Māori against “designing pakeha”.

Two decades on, when a well-educated Māori protested to the Prime Minister about such restrictions, Michael Joseph Savage replied: “I would like to think that the time had arrived … when it would be prudent to allow the Māori to manage his own affairs … but while there may be some Māoris who like yourself are versed in business technicalities, the greater number are still in need of some measure of protection.”

Generations of politicians and officials saw Māori as both poor at managing money and accustomed to a lower standard of living than other New Zealanders. Many Māori struggled to access the old-age pension because their births had not been registered. Those who were being paid it in 1930 received £2 14s per week, 71 per cent of the £3 15s 10d paid to Pākehā. The Akarana Māori Association argued that there was “no logical reason for the discrimination”, which had been justified in the past by an assumption that Māori could “live off the land” in a way Pākehā could not.

Other forms of discrimination showed returning Māori soldiers that little had changed despite their war service.

When Captain Walker MC, Lieutenants Hetet and Parakuka, and Second Lieutenant Werohia applied for postings to Territorial units, the OC for the Auckland Military District, Colonel H.R. Potter, declined their services, as “I do not consider it advisable that they … be placed in charge of Territorials of European descent.”

Māori were barred from the dress circles of some cinemas. Their criticism of the land rating system fell on deaf ears. While they struggled to get roads built across their land, “if a few pakeha settlers came in, roads very quickly followed”.

There were ways around discriminatory practices. Massey’s Reform government, for example, classified Māori with certain educational or property qualifications as in effect honorary Pākehā. Some Māori returned servicemen simply asked a Pākehā mate or a fair-skinned cousin to buy liquor for them while they hid outside.

This was flouting the law, and also degrading. Māori would have to fight in another world war before the discriminatory licensing statutes were repealed, and it would be several decades after that before race-based distinctions were eliminated.

Before the end of the war … a group of Pioneers at Colincamps, France, on 1 April 1918. The war ended seven months later, in November.

Sometimes, discrimination was overt. When Second Lieutenant Jack Brooking wanted to get married in St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral, Parnell, where his father-in-law-to-be, Robert Hunt, was the organist and choirmaster, the verger would not allow it, “because Brooking is a Maori”.

Bishop Averill, who had welcomed the Pioneers in Auckland Domain, told Hunt he could not overrule the verger but issued a special licence for the couple to marry outside the church. On 12 April 1921, the wedding party made use of the Bishop’s house and gardens across the road from the cathedral. Four months earlier, Kahi Harawira, formerly a sergeant in the Māori Contingent, had been ordained by Averill in the cathedral.

Bigotry was also evident in a decision of the all-Pākehā Gisborne Citizens’ Defence Committee (GCDC), which administered loans to needy soldiers. In October 1918, the committee barred Māori soldiers from receiving relief, on the grounds that the Māori Soldiers’ Fund (MSF) was larger than its own yet open to only some returned men. This was “double-banking”, fumed one member.

The GCDC had asked the MSF’s council for a donation of £200 — in effect, a refund of grants already made to Māori soldiers — but this was not possible because the fund had been raised for a special purpose. Captain Pitt, the MSF council’s secretary/treasurer, asked the GCDC to rescind its decision. Māori had subscribed generously to the defence fund in the three and a half years since it had been set up, and they were entitled to benefit from it.

While the creation of the MSF was an expression of Māori rights as equal citizens, it gave some Pākehā an excuse to exclude Māori returned soldiers from entitlements previously available to all.

Nor had representations of Māori in the media changed much as a result of the war, despite the praise for the performance of the Māori Contingent at Gallipoli.

Letters from Private Henare Tikitanu and later Corporal Tikitanu, V.C. (1918) written by the Vicar of Waiuku, J.C. Fussell, for example, differed little in tone from Grace’s 1910 “Hone Tiki” dialogues. Tikitanu, who was described by Fussell as “a fine stamp of Waikato Maori youth”, was “half-literate” — he wrote home in “mongrel English” — and “simple-minded to the point of stupidity”.

During the war, the Chronicles of the NZEF had presented similar language as Pioneer Battalion banter. In the 1920s and 1930s, the journalist Pat Lawlor depicted Māori as comic figures content with their lot. According to Bill Pearson, “None of the serious writers of the period between Grace and the depression wrote of the Maori as he was living at the time.”

In 1915, Miria Pomare and Lady Liverpool (the wife of New Zealand’s Governor) set up a fund to support the Māori Contingent. Among the first to join Pomare’s team were the wives of the other Maori MPs, Lady Carroll, Rosie Henare, Arihia Ngata, and Katherine Parata. Some 28 Māori women’s committees across the country coordinated fundraising activities. Pictured: Members of the national committee.

The Fight for Equality

Despite the war and the high mortality during the 1918 influenza pandemic, the 1921 census found that the Māori population had increased by almost 3,000 in a decade, to 52,751. At the end of the war, half of those classified as Māori were thought to have some European ancestry. Even allowing for inaccuracies in the data, the Māori population had definitely grown since the turn of the century. The most striking trend was the growing proportion of children, with 40 per cent of Māori aged under fifteen.

In the newspaper Te Reo o te Hokowhitu a Tu, Rangi Marumaru suggested that the key issues for Māori returned servicemen in the December 1919 general election were halting land sales and improving educational opportunities.

Reverend Frederick Bennett reminded Māori that they needed to build on the Pioneers’ efforts: “Kei maumau noa o ratou toto. Kua mutu te pakanga, he tika. Engari katahi ano ka timata te tino pakanga e piki ai koe te iwi Maori e heke ai ranei tatau.” (Let not their blood be spilt in vain. For the ultimate encounter has now commenced where you will either mount up, Māori people, or we will fall away.)

The “tino pakanga” (ultimate encounter) was the fight for survival as Māori in post-war New Zealand. The Māori parliamentarians who retained their seats in 1919 called for equality of opportunity. Māori troops had fought alongside Pākehā; Māori should enjoy their share of new opportunities.

An appeal to the Anglican General Synod to appoint a Māori bishop was one example of the struggle for equality. A request that the RSA allow its Māori members to form an association affiliated to the national body was another. The fight for equal employment opportunities (for men) was a third.

Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa), Apirana Ngata, and Maui Pomare at Avondale camp on 20 October, 1914. Prime Minister William Massey offered knighthoods to Pomare and Ngata in recognition of the Māori war effort. Pomare accepted, becoming only the second Māori to be appointed KCMG (after Carroll). Ngata declined on the grounds that Buck was more deserving of the honour. Not only had the doctor gone to war, he had risked his life providing medical assistance during the 1913 typhoid epidemic. When Ngata was asked again in 1927, he accepted after consulting his people. Buck would be knighted in 1946 in recognition of his services to science and literature.

Māori returned servicemen had anticipated finding employment in government departments, especially Public Works. (Apirana) Ngata proposed to the Repatriation Board (set up to help reintegrate returned soldiers into society) that 50 Pioneers under Captain Vercoe be employed at Whakatane and 50 under Captain Broughton at Wairoa, to help complete the East Coast railway line.

Ngata expected the officers to be employed as supervisors and paid accordingly. He was affronted when he learned that they had been “offered only twelve shillings and sixpence a day as ‘sort of timekeepers’.” After a fortnight, they resigned and found better-paid work elsewhere. “Ngata blamed the failure of the scheme on the hidebound nature of the Public Works Department.”

While the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act applied equally to both races, and Māori soldiers were officially included in all repatriation schemes, many Māori veterans found the Repatriation Department unhelpful. While Lieutenant Arthur Te Wawata Gannon was critical of the treatment of ex-servicemen in general, Māori veterans, he felt, needed particular help. An officer in Wellington, where the NZRSA was now based, should deal solely with their needs. Men from rural areas unfamiliar with the ways of bureaucracy were especially disadvantaged.

Soldiers’ parents were even less fluent in officialese. When, on 26 March 1918, Hone Takerei Mohi Tawhai, of Waima, enquired about accessing money he was entitled to following the death of his son in France 15 months earlier, his ignorance of the bureaucratic system was obvious.

“Ko aua moni kore ano i puta mai o tana matenga atu taenoa mai ki tenei ra. Tera pea kua pau ke i a Puruma Whira raua ko Matiu Tawhai na reira au i patai atu ai kia koe mau e patai atu ki te minita o te whawhai.” (I have not received any part of those monies from the date of his death to the present time. It may be that [lawyer] Bloomfield and Matiu Tawhai [Hohepa’s uncle] have received and used them long since. So please ask the Defence Minister about it.)

Tawhai’s son Hohepa had died of sickness at Étaples in December 1916. Another son had been wounded, and a third returned ill. With limited access to the old-age pension, Māori parents were often dependent on the income of their children.

Weddings like this took place in spite of the war … Corporal William “Billy” Halbert of Gisborne and Emmeline Young with friends and family members on their wedding day, 12 February 1917, at St Mary’s Church, Handsworth, Birmingham. Halbert’s best man was Corporal Tane (Dan) Hopa of Temuka. Halbert had sought the permission of his uncle, Sir James Carroll, when he visted the Pioneers in 1916.

A ballot system for allocating land to returned soldiers had been introduced under the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act 1915. This scheme would eventually allow the government to finance more than 9000 veterans onto land on which, it was hoped, they would become successful farmers. It soon became apparent, however, that almost all balloted land was being taken up by Pākehā soldiers. Ngata attributed the lack of Māori applicants to ignorance of the process.

In October 1916, Māori landowners in the central North Island offered the government part of the Owhaoko Blocks for settlement by Māori soldiers. When Pomare met with Tureiti Te Heuheu Tukino, Kingi Topia, Hoko Patena and other representatives of Ngāti Tūwharetoa at Waihi Pā beside Lake Taupō, 25,300 acres was ceremonially gifted.

“It was a marvellous gift,” Pomare wrote later to Sergeant Martin Te Heuheu. “The old man [Tureiti Te Heuheu] was the main spring as you may imagine. He tino nui tenei aroha no to iwi no Ngati Tuwharetoa [This is a very significant gesture from your people, from Ngati Tuwharetoa].”

Five days after the Waihi hui (7 October), Pomare met with more than 80 Ngāti Tamakopiri and Ngāti Whitikaupeka landowners at Kingi Topia’s residence near Taihape. They were eager to add to the gift. Te Oti Pohe started the ball rolling by offering another 2000 acres from his interests in the Owhaoko Blocks. This was soon boosted to 20,000 acres by others present. A further proposal was made to give three areas totalling 100,000 acres in the Kaimanawa Block for Pākehā soldiers. These offers were held over so absent owners could have a say.

No one questioned the suitability of the Owhaoko Blocks for farming. Yet the land “had very little utility for soldier settlement — or indeed general pastoral development”. It was under snow for much of the year, rabbits were rife, access was difficult, and growing rates arrears were a burden on the owners. While the cynical might speculate that these factors — and the government’s aggressive purchasing policy — may have encouraged the owners to support Te Heuheu’s original gift, the sons of a number of the owners had served, and patriotism and concern for their welfare were genuine motivations.

The Kaimanawa offer never eventuated, but the Owhaoko gift, reduced to 35,582 acres, was given legal status in October 1918. ”The Tuwharetoas received a very nice acknowledgement from King George,” Pomare told Sergeant Te Heuheu, “so … they are quite ‘cockawhoop’ over it.”

Despite this impressive gesture, Ngāti Tūwharetoa were soon protesting against government attempts to take more of their land. Herries had announced that soldiers would be resettled on blocks south of Lake Taupō that the owners were refusing to give up, asking instead for help to make the land productive. Te Heuheu Tukino called a hui in Wellington “to protest against the power invested in the Native Minister”.

The government had acquired 500,000 acres of Māori land for soldier settlement by the time the Westmoreland berthed in Auckland, and nearly 600,000 acres more a year later. Almost all this land was settled by Pākehā returned soldiers.

Aggressive Purchasing Policy

From October 1914, owners in the Owhaoko Blocks could sell only to the government. As the war progressed, Native Department staff began purchasing land in the 2206-acre Owhaoko C6 Block by picking off individuals.

By 1917, Private Tauri Paora of Taupō was one of the few Māori owners left. It would be a bad look to purchase his 60 acres while he was at the front. But when he was invalided home in March 1917, after being wounded on the Somme, officials waited just a fortnight before writing to inform him that the Crown was purchasing his shares for £15 1s 8d on the basis of the 1914 valuation of the block.

Friendships forged in the crucible of war would last a lifetime. Sergeants Kahi Harawira, Herbert Collier and Private Mika Puru on the Nile, October 1915. Harawira and his Pākehā companion Collier were inseparable and dubbed “The Terrible Twins”. In January 1940, Rev Harawira was appointed padre to 28 (Māori) Battalion. His grandson, Hone Harawira, was a member of parliament from 2005 to 2014.

Ballots for Soldier Settlement

When Māori soldiers did enter ballots for farm settlement schemes, many Pākehā assumed they had tribal land available to them. Applications by Māori soldiers for land in North Auckland in mid-1918 “provoked outrage in the local farming community, which enlisted the aid of the local member [of Parliament] to ensure that the national endowment land in question was retained for the settlement of “European” soldiers.

When Minister of Lands D.H. Guthrie tried to set aside the 560-acre Hoskings Estate between Maketu and Matata for Māori soldiers in 1920, he faced a barrage of protests from Pākehā settlers and returned soldiers. A large deputation met the Minister on the property and complained that, had they known the block was to be allocated to Māori, Pākehā returned soldiers would not have gone to the trouble and expense of viewing it.

The subtext was that Māori were not good farmers. The chairman of the Tauranga County Council claimed that “if Maoris were put together on the block in question it would undoubtedly go back”; to the Western Bay of Plenty RSA president, “it would be far better to mix them with the whites”. The Member for Rotorua, Frank Hockly, told the Minister that the block “was of such a nature that the Maori character was not calculated to keep it up to its present high condition”. It would be wiser “to select a … class of country … which would not spoil if neglected.”

Captain Vercoe, who was also present, pointed out that so far some 3000 Pākehā soldiers had been settled on land, but only about half a dozen Māori. The reason seemed obvious: Māori were outnumbered in the ballots by 100 to one. Vercoe, now working as an interpreter in the Legislative Council, had proposed to the Minister that small blocks be set aside for Māori ex- servicemen.

“Much had been said about idle native lands, but it must be remembered that when the Pakeha acquired land by lease or purchase, money was available to him. But money was not available for Maori and that is a bar against him improving it.”

Banks would not lend to Māori if the applicant did not own the land outright, and most Māori land had multiple owners. Few Māori received State Advances, so most were dependent on the limited resources of the Native Trustee. Vercoe could also point to blocks of land held by Pākehā that had not been improved.

Guthrie at first stuck to his guns, maintaining that “settlement along with the pakeha [is] not generally acceptable to natives”, for whom he also intended to set aside Whanganui trust lands. Eventually, under continuing pressure from Hockly and Herries, and facing letter-writing campaigns from non-Māori interest groups, Guthrie buckled and divided the Hoskings Estate between Māori and Pākehā ex-servicemen.

This apparent compromise was not the end of the matter. When the secretary of the Western Bay of Plenty RSA protested against the allocation of four sections to Māori, Guthrie admitted that he had promised Captain Vercoe that he would reserve sections for Māori.

After meeting the deputation, “I decided that it was more in accord with the wishes of all parties to divide the settlement between the pakeha and the Maori soldiers — the natives to be allotted the small sections between the sea and the railway, the Europeans the larger sections on the opposite side of the line”. Māori veterans were marginalised in a land block that had initially been set aside for them.

Historian Ashley Gould has found that at least 30 discharged soldiers of Māori descent acquired farms under settlement schemes administered by the Lands and Survey Department, overturning the previous understanding that none had done so. This was between 1 and 2 per cent of all Māori returned soldiers, whereas 10 per cent of Pākehā were helped onto farms.

In Gould’s view, the “policy of providing repatriation assistance specifically for Maori soldiers was … piecemeal and aimed at … tribes with influential spokesmen”.

Historian Terry Hearn found that Māori were, at worst, deliberately excluded from the rehabilitation scheme and, at best, inadequately provided for compared to Pākehā. Ngāi Tahu, who had provided more than their share of troops, apparently received little or no assistance.

The Pioneer rugby side in England in early 1919. Many of these players toured New Zealand in May–June on their return.

Land, Lakes and Waterways

Herries had overseen the continuing acquisition of Māori land during the war. Native Minister from 1912 to 1921, he held views similar to those of most Pākehā rural settlers: it was the patriotic duty of all New Zealanders to bring every acre of land into production and “unproductive” Māori land should pass into Pākehā hands — by compulsion, if necessary.

In the decade before the war, most of the central North Island had been denuded of its forests to make way for pastoral farming. At the start of the war, Herries wanted the 656,000-acre Urewera Native Reserve — “the last frontier” — opened up for settlement and imposed pre-emption (banned private sales) and instructed his department to buy land there at pre-war valuations.

By the time Tūhoe soldiers came home in 1919, almost half of the Urewera was in Crown hands. Complaints from Māori were not countenanced, and these generally came from individuals because the tribal polity had by now been undermined and in many regions almost destroyed by the Native Land Court processes.

The government also asserted its ownership of the lakes in Te Arawa territory, to ensure their “uninterrupted enjoyment” by Pākehā and overseas visitors. To Māori, this was another act of confiscation — against the tribe that had been the first to offer its support to the Crown when war broke out. Nearly all Te Arawa’s eligible young men had enlisted and its fundraising efforts had been unstinting.

Neighbouring tribes contributed to Te Arawa’s fighting fund to ensure it could engage good legal support, and the iwi was able to establish its traditional rights to the fish in the lakes. In 1922, the government agreed to pay a new Arawa District Trust Board £6000 a year in compensation for loss of ownership of the lakes.

With this precedent set, Ngāti Tūwharetoa asserted its rights to the lakes and streams around Taupō. In 1926, a Tūwharetoa Trust Board was established and the iwi accepted £3000 a year and other concessions in return for giving up its claim to ownership of Lake Taupō.


This extract is from Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E! Māori in the First World War written by Monty Soutar and published by Bateman Publishing (RRP: $69.99)

Monty Soutar ONZM (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tai, Ngāti Kahungunu) is a senior historian with Manatū Taonga/The Ministry for Culture and Heritage. He was the World War One Historian-in-Residence at the Auckland War Memorial Museum (2014−17), and the author of Nga Tama Toa (David Bateman, 2008), which told the story of C Company of 28 (Māori) Battalion in the Second World War. Monty has been a teacher, soldier and university lecturer and has held a number of appointments on national bodies, including the First World War Centenary Panel and the Waitangi Tribunal. He’s now leading a digital project on Te Tiriti o Waitangi settlements in Aotearoa. 

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